Friday, October 28, 2011

Ladies Alley Cat bike race

For all intents and purposes, bike riding is a verrry new thing for me. (there are 3 'r's for good reason) Before moving to the bay, I never rode a bike on city streets. I never rode hills or at night or amidst rush hour traffic and I certainly never performed in a bike race.
An 'alley-cat' is a bike race/ride wherein riders are given a manifest of 5(ish) checkpoints that they must hit before reaching the finish line. Riders are allowed the freedom of setting they're own routes, using whatever shortcuts or alleyways they see fit... Hence the name, alleycat.
Upon learning new friend, Christy O. was organizing a girls/trans only alley cat race of her own, I was equal parts intrigued and terrified. I knew I wanted to support her but bigger than that, I wanted to face a few fears of my own.
What fears?, you ask... Let's see:
-fear of cycling on city streets? check
-fear of crashing on city streets? check
-fear of competing with teams? check
-fear of letting teammates down? check
This alley cat seemed to have it all, so to speak. I had no other choice but to commit unabashedly and attempt to squash all my fears in one fell swoop.

When I arrived to the race's start I was pleased to meet some lovely, very mellow ladies. They assured me this was more of a ride than a race and that I had nothing to fear. "Remember", one said reassuringly, "there's even a prize for DFL." "What's DFL mean?", I naively inquired. "Dead. Fucking. Last. Of course", she deadpanned.
Dead Fucking Last, eh? Now that's my kind of race. 

I was lucky enough to team up with Casey, Adrian, Julie and Chris, all awesome gals that knew the city and the cycling way better than me!
From Cupid's arrow we cycled down the Embarcadero to Pier 39 in order to get our manifests. That first part of the race was the only moment of cattiness in the race, reminding me of cross country meet starts where girls would push and shove to get ahead. 'Whatever' then, 'whatever' now.

My teammates looked over the manifest and assessed we ought to hit up the Grant/Commercial checkpoint in Chinatown since we were already in Fisherman's Wharf. The ride over was fine save for Commercial street. If a flat street is 180 degrees and straight up is 90, Commercial is probably a solid 82. Jokes aside, a San Francisco street like this is NOT built for Linus bikes. 
Sweaty and sore, we arrive to Grant and Comm. to discover there is no checkpoint. We ride up and down the street to no avail. Turns out the checkpoint person bailed so time to move on...

We ride back down the wrong way on the steep one way street, this time on the sidewalk. I knew I should have just walked ol' Linus since it only has coaster breaks but I didn't want to loose street cred with my team. Sure enough though, going down I gained so much natural momentum that it quickly became impossible to stop. Everyone was already waiting at the intersection when dread washed over me. It all happened so fast. All I remember was yelling out some helpless whimper, then clipping Casey's bike, then flying off the bike and into the intersection. 
Everyone was silent for a moment, but I arose to discover I was totally fine. Linus was fine. Casey was fine. THANK HEAVEN! 
That all could have played out very differently. 

I shook it off and the team trucked on. The race was smooth sailing from there on out and was an incredible way to see/learn the city. We could not have asked for better weather; clear and in the mid 60's, I rode in a tank top and felt great. September and October truly are the most beautiful months in the Bay.

The race ended at pushbike, the beloved cycling apparel shop at 22nd & Shotwell in the mission. Riders and friends alike enjoyed icy cold tap beer and shared war stories of the ride while we all waited for Christy to announce the winners.

When I pulled up to pushbike it looked as though Drew were purchasing something at the register. When I inquired he handed over a beautiful vintage cycling jersey and said how proud he was of me. What a total babe.
The race was a $5 buy in and winner takes all. Since there were 30 riders, the prize money was $150 but just before they announced the winner, Tae of Alite threw in an extra $100 bucks bumping the grand prize up to $250! Not too shabby for an all girls race!

Because this alley cat received such a warm response from various bike vendors in the city, there was a lot of loot to go around. The crowd giggled slightly when Christy announced prizes for 12th and 13th place. In the end there were prizes for 14 girls plus DFL.

Forgot about DFL? Well, to be sure that prize went to yours truly! That's right, folks, I was Dead F*%@ing last in my first alley cat race and I have a 6-pack of 21st amendment IPA can beer to prove it! 
And I have to say, I have not been as proud of many other accomplishments in my life.
An enormous thanks to Christy for organizing this and to my teammates for doing their best to keep me from killing myself...til the next ride, ladies!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Beach Camping in Santa Cruz

Harvest has always been a 4 letter word in our house. Come late August through mid November it is understood DH will be, for all intents and purposes out of commission, instead knee deep in wine grapes. Long hours plus heavy manual labor equates to zombie of a partner during harvest. 'Wine Widow' is the playful title coined for the girlfriends and wives of winemakers and harvest workers.
Though this harvest has been DH's most mellow, he is still awake and out the door by 6 am most days and has worked every weekend since mid September. Last Saturday however, he sealed the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay tanks, thereby earning his first 2 days off in 6 weeks.
We decided to celebrate the best way we know how...go camping!

Since our last attempt at camping in Santa Cruz was a wash, so to speak, we figured we'd give it another go. We awoke early Sunday, loaded the car and headed south. The unseasonably warm October temperatures tempted us to try camping beach-side at New Brighton State Beach.

Our first priority though was cappucinos at Verve Coffee Roasters and breakfast burritos from Chill Out Cafe, two beloved institutions on the eastside of San Cruz.

Having only read about New Brighton State Beach, we were delighted to discover the campsite was beautiful and big with breathtaking views of the Pacific...and hot showers to boot!
We were lucky enough to score one of the best campsites on the grounds, surrounded by coastal pines at the edge of the world.
The driftwood-lined beach is a 5 minute walk from the campsites.
The fire rings available on a first come basis would make an ideal setting for a clam bake...this is looking like a promising site for next year's birthday camping weekend!
In an attempt at minimalism, I insisted on packing just one cast iron skillet and try to cook all our meals using only this pan and the heat of the campfire. 
What began as a novelty quickly morphed into a necessity when we discovered only 1 semi-used propane canister in the camping supplies!! (side note: we typically camp with at very least 2 full canisters; 1 for the camping stove and 1 for the lantern) Obviously our priority was light so we would have to do all our cooking on the campfire!

Thankfully, I had already planned to cook with parchment-lined aluminum pouches, placed directly on the fire. I took this idea from Martha Stewart who refers to these as 'hobo bags'. Oh, Martha!

misc meat???
We picked up the grocery goods from New Leaf Market, a local Santa Cruz grocery with a great sustainable fish counter and extensive local produce.
One pouch contained shitake and oyster mushrooms with garlic and lemon and another pouch contained new potatoes with butter beer.

Trout provided the protein of the meal and enabled me to christen my new fish griller! 
Whole fish is such an exceptional taste compared to fillets.

Steamy mushrooms and whole trout paired perfectly with Eric Kent's '09 Sonoma Coast Pinot.
Dessert was an easy and delicious blueberry grunt made simply by throwing some blueberries, sugar and lemon in a skillet to heat then topping with a biscuity, pancake-like batter and cooking it directly on the campfire until batter is solid. This could make a great camping breakfast as well.

The most delicious part of dessert though was in our glasses. DH popped open a bottle of Premier Cru Champagne to celebrate the occasion of opening a Premier Cru Champagne. It was arguably better than you'd (I'd) dreamed, even especially in a camping chair! And yes, in answer to your question, its easy to love a man that loves good champagne!
Miraculously, the propane canister provided light for the entire night and even had enough to fuel the camping stove for coffee the next morning. Thank heavens!
For breakfast, I decided to replicate Amelia's egg dish from the last birthday camp trip. Easy as 1-2-3: simply heat butter in the skillet, add chopped baguette or cibatta, then crack eggs atop the bread cubes and allow to cook on the campfire.
"Its like a deconstructed egg sandwich" DH aptly observed. In fact, this ultra easy, super delicious egg dish would translate beautifully to Christmas brunch.
A one-night camp trip may seem like more harm than its worth to some but for us, it was just what the doctor ordered! Since it was likely the last camping trip and last ocean dip of the year, we savored every moment!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lit Crawl in the Mission

You've heard of a pub crawl, a coffee crawl, maybe even a taco crawl, but have you ever heard of a lit crawl? Lit crawl is the epic culminating event of the two-week long literary festival, Litquake. With 80 events throughout The Mission and more 450 readers packed into 3 strict 1-hour shifts, the Lit crawl ended up feeling more like an all-out race than a crawl! Looking over the itinerary, there was definitely something for everyone.

6:00-7:00pm - Phase 1
We  began the evening at 18 reasons, a place close to my heart. 18 reasons is the educational nonprofit of the magical Bi-Rite Market and extends the market's mission of 'creating community through food' beautifully. 18 reasons also happens to be one of the first places I volunteered at upon moving to the Bay Area. The Lit crawl event at 18 Reasons was 'How Cookbooks Inspire Change' with 5 authors and food personalities speaking about a cookbook that changed them. A mushroom forager, a father-turned-cookbook memoirist and the proverbial 'Mayor of 18th street' were among the varied speakers that ranged from the sacred to the profane to the downright moving.
Soft spoken and serious Connie Green is a 'head huntress', or forager and author of 'The Wild Table' and also exactly the perfect image of a Bay Area bohemian. She read in earnest from the introduction of a former forager who emphasized the importance and sacredness of simplicity at the table. 

Daniel Duane shifted the mood of the cookbook conversation drastically. The father-turned-cook read (appropriately) from his upcoming cookbook memoir. Fast-talking, funny and brightly irreverent, Duane read of the time when his first child was born he realized he was the lowest priority in the household and so discovered the kitchen and cookbooks and cooking. By the end of the passage, he managed to liken the beloved Alice Water's 'Chez Panisse Vegetables' to 'Mein Kaumpf' in a way that was in no way offensive, only hilarious and inciting. It should be noted, Daniel Duane was one Alice Waters' preschool students when she was still a Montessori Schoolteacher and is now good friends with Waters.

Restaurant critic Marcia Gagliardi spoke in reverence of wholesome Heidi Swanson's 'Super Natural Cooking' and beautiful blog, 101 cookbooks. "If not for Heidi, I'd be swimming in a sea of duck fat and butter!" Gagliardi lovingly proclaimed. 

Co-author of the much anticipated cookbook, Bi-Rite's 'Eat Good Food', Dabney Gough spoke sweetly and honestly of her transformation into the food industry, ushered in by reading the now infamous Anthony Bourdain's first oyster experience in 'No Reservations'. She revealed too that at the time of first reading this she was a vegetarian who had never tried an oyster and the mixed emotions she felt about eating one. Both Bourdain and Gough's oyster stories struck a cord with me, and I imagine most of the audience.

And last but most assuredly not least, the Mayor of 18th Street himself, Sam Mogannam spoke first of starting the Bi-Rite we all know and love today and then of cooking cassoulet. Reading from the introduction of cassoulet in Paula Wolfert's 'Cooking of Southwest France', Mogannam captured the crowd with a beautiful and humble tale of the complexities of a country, a dish and of life itself.

7:15-8:15 - Phase 2
For Phase 2, we made our way to the intriguing sounding 'Mystery & Mayhem from the SF Examiner' at the SF Police Station on Valencia. Upon arriving though, we were turned away since the event was already at capacity. (The SFPD might have been the only venue of the evening to strictly adhere to room capacities)
By the time we arrived to our 2nd choice, 'Curd it through the grapevine; dairy related food writings' at Mission Cheese, the crowd was spilling into the sidewalk. We managed to just barely hear Megan Gordon's lovely memoir about cooking custard from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, a lovely segue from the previous event. When it was impossible to hear the next speaker, DH had the foresight to go to Phase 3 early to get a good seat for the sure to be crowded McSweeney's & The Believer event...

8:30-9:30 - Phase 3
...It didn't hurt that the next event was at one of DH's favorite bars in The Mission, Latin American Club. We wanted their signature margaritas but alas, they are like many Mission establishments, cash only and we only had enough for 2 draft beers! Luckily though, we were able to score 2 primo seats near the front of the stage. 
The scoreboard onstage and retro scantron forms handed out before the start of the show were promising signs this would be more fun than most lit crawl events.
That The Believer columnist Daniel Handler was the hilariously capable emcee of the evening only added to the fun factor. 
Husband & Wife powerhouse and Mission Chinese proprietors, Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz sat onstage preparing fried chicken-butter lettuce wraps while Modern American poets Tess Taylor and Matthew Zapruder read aloud their poetry. Taylor and Zapruder were then called back to the stage to rep 'Poets' while 2 unsuspecting audience members came to the stage to rep 'Normal People' in a head-to-head triva challenge. The 2 rounds of 'American Poetry' and 'Making a Living' were delightfully absurd and in the end, the 'poets' slaughtered the 'normal people'. 
The scantron test was equally silly, wherein audience members had to answer whether the series of facts shouted out were true about Daniel Handler, Spanish poet Vincente Aleixandre, both Handler and Aleixandre or neither. 
I failed, obviously. Luckily though, I am smart enough to keep a super smart vegetarian boyfriend around who aced the scantron and in so doing, won me the delicious reward of a Mission Chinese lettuce wrap. Yum!
The streets of the Mission were packed full with vibrant, diverse crowds long after the lit crawl events were over. That is not to say the Mission isn't always packed on a Saturday night, it is. But the lit crawl amplified the energy that is so special and unique to the Mission. The entire evening was at once enchanted, educational, funny and informative...and best of all FREE!